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Supreme Court grants bail to Shankaracharya
S.S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, January 10
The Supreme Court today found various flaws in the Tamil Nadu police probe against Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati in the Sankararaman murder case and ordered his immediate release on bail exactly after two months after his arrest, saying that no worthwhile evidence has been brought to its notice to sustain his detention.

“No worthwhile prima facie evidence apart from the alleged confessions have been brought to our notice to show that the petitioner (pontiff) along with two other accused was party to a conspiracy,” said a Bench of Chief Justice R. C. Lahoti, Mr Justice G. P. Mathur and Mr Justice P. P. Naolekar, allowing his bail petition.

Rejecting the argument of Tamil Nadu Government that if released, the seer would tamper with the evidence, the court directed him to furnish a bond and two sureties before the Chengleput Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) to his satisfaction. The amount of bond and sureties was left to be determined by the CJM.

While granting bail to the pontiff, the court, however, restrained him from visiting the premises of the mutt until the filing of the chargesheet.

“He shall also surrender his passport before the CJM,” the court in a 17-page verdict said. But the Bench made it clear that its findings was confined to only for the purpose of disposing of the bail plea and it would not be “construed” as final opinion on any of the issues of fact or law arising for the decision in the case during trial.

Regarding the confessions of the co-accused, which were cited as evidence by the Tamil Nadu Government counsel, linking the seer to the murder, the court said their statements were recorded much after the murder when the conspiracy had culminated, and “therefore, Section 10 of the Evidence Act cannot be pressed into service.”

“However, we do not feel the necessity of expressing a concluded opinion on this question in the present case as the matter relates to grant of bail only and the question may be examined more deeply at the appropriate stage,” the Bench concluded.

On the question of the dispute over mutt affair between the seer and Sankararaman, being made out as a motive of the alleged involvement of the Shankaracharya by the police, the court said Sankararaman was not associated with the mutt and “there is absolutely no evidence or material collected so far in the investigation which may indicate that the seer had shown any resentment against Sankararaman for having made allegations against either his personal character or the discharge of his duties as the Shankaracharya.”

On the alleged withdrawal of Rs 50 lakh from ICICI Bank by the pontiff for the payment to the assailants, the court said “no documents have been produced in support of it.”

Regarding the subsequent twist by police that Rs 50 lakh was received by the seer from the sale of mutt land was kept in his room till he paid it to the assailants, the court said bank statements clearly showed that he had deposited the money in two accounts in instalments of Rs 28.24 lakh and Rs 21.85 lakh on May 7, 2004.

“This belies the prosecution case, which was developed subsequently after the order had been passed by the apex court on December 17, directing the state to produce a copy of the bank account that the cash money was retained by the pontiff from which a substantial amount was paid to the hirelings,” the court said.



Tamil Nadu police arrests junior seer
Tribune News Service

Chennai, January 10
While followers of the Kanchi Mutt burst crackers and celebrated the Supreme Court granting bail to the Shankaracharya, the Tamil Nadu police this evening barged into the mutt at Kancheepuram and arrested the junior pontiff on the same charges.

The junior seer was produced before the Kancheepuram Judicial Magistrate, Mr. G. Uttamaraj, who remanded him to 15 days in judicial custody. He was brought to Chennai Central Prison here and lodged in it.

As the news of Sri Jayendra Saraswati being granted bail by the Supreme Court in the Sankararaman murder case reached Tamil Nadu, devotees gathered in front of the Vellore Central Prison, 180 kms from here, and rejoiced.

The Madras High Court had already granted bail to the seer in the Radhakrishnan assault case last month.

The Shankaracharya has been incarcerated for the past two months since he was arrested from Mehboobnagar in Andhra Pradesh on November 11 last year.

A large crowd also gathered in front of the Shankara Mutt at Kancheepuram, 70 kms from here, though the apex court ruled that the Hindu pontiff could not enter the mutt till the charge sheet was filed. However, they were surprised when the Kancheepuram SP, Mr. Prem Kumar, who heads the special investigation team arrived with a large police contingent and entered the mutt ,leaving at least 30 constables to guard the entrance.

At 5.15 pm the Kanchi Mutt’s lawyer came out and alleged that the police had disrupted the junior Shankaracharya’s puja and without stating the charges or producing a warrant announced his arrest.

The junior seer was taken amidst strong security to the Forest Bungalow at Kancheepuram where he was being questioned and would be produced before the Kancheepuram Judicial Magistrate, Mr. G. Uttamaraja, tomorrow.

With this arrest the special investigation team has so far arrested 23 men, including the Kanchi Mutt’s manager, Mr. Sunderasa Iyer, its accountant, Mr. Vishwanath, a city- based real estate developer, Mr. Ravi Subramanium, and the alleged killers who hacked Sankaraman to death inside his office on September 3 last year.

Meanwhile, the Shankara-charya could not be released from the prison tonight as his passport, which the apex court ruled was to be deposited with the police, could not be found.

The Shankarachaya being a religious man has reportedly informed his followers that he would not prefer to leave prison tomorrow as today being “amavasya” was an auspicious day but tomorrow being “prathama” is considered inauspicious according to the Hindu calendar.

He would prefer now to leave the prison only on Wednesday.

With the arrest of both the seers the 2500 old mutt is now without a spiritual head and it is not known who will carry on the “puja” which has never been discontinued since the mutt was founded.



PMO distances itself from junior seer’s arrest
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 10
Faced with protests from the BJP, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) today immediately distanced itself from the arrest of the Junior Shankaracharya of Kanchi, saying that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had already written to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa on the issue.

A PMO spokesperson today said the Prime Minister had written to Ms Jayalalithaa on January 6, apprehending the arrest of Junior Shankaracharya of Kanchi Vijayendra Saraswati, in the Shankararaman murder case by the Tamil Nadu Police.

In fact, Dr Manmohan Singh also spoke to Ms Jayalalithaa on the issue during his last visit to Chennai, the spokesperson said, adding that the Chief Minister had written back saying that the police had clinching evidence against the Junior Shankaracharya and the law would take its own course.

Meanwhile, a BJP delegation, led by party President L.K. Advani, also met the Prime Minister late this evening to protest against the arrest.

The Congress, on the other hand, termed the timing of the arrest “strange”. A party spokesman said questions would be raised about the timing of the arrest till the police gave justification about why it had not been affected so far.

He, however, added that the issue was strictly between the state and the mutt and the Centre was in no way concerned with it.

Meanwhile, another party spokesman Anand Sharma, while commenting on the grant of conditional bail to senior Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati by the Supreme Court, said the decision of the judiciary was always acceptable to all.



Move to install puppet in mutt, alleges BJP
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 10
The BJP today alleged that the arrest of junior Shankaracharya Vijayendra Saraswati was a move of the Tamil Nadu Government to take control of the Kanchi mutt and install a “puppet” to administer its affairs.

Reacting to the latest development, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi also indicated that the party would make the arrest of the two Shankaracharyas and the “complicity” of the Centre in them an issue in the coming Assembly elections in Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana.

“With the Kanchi Shankaracharya prevented by the Supreme Court from entering the mutt and the arrest of the junior pontiff, there is now a vacuum in the management of the mutt. It is clear that the state government’s motive is to take over the mutt and install a puppet,” Dr Joshi said.

He said the verdict of the Supreme Court granting bail to the seer “for lack of evidence was beyond the tolerance of the prosecution and their sole aim is to tarnish the reputation of the mutt in whatever possible manner.”

Party leader Sushma Swaraj, who has been deputed to receive the senior pontiff on his release from the Vellore jail, would be giving her assessment of the situation on her return and the party would decide on its future course of action thereafter, Dr Joshi said.

They know that the police cannot arrest the senior Shankaracharya in Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh without the complicity of the Centre. People will give an appropriate response at the appropriate time,” he added.


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